How many times have you found yourself miles from the truck wishing you had a camera to capture a stunning sunset, gigantic elk rub, pristine mountain meadow, or the bull of a lifetime? I have kicked myself more than once because of forgetting a camera when an awesome “photo op” presented itself. Today it’s easier than ever to take great backcountry pictures with the advancements of compact digital cameras. Many well known camera makers offer affordable products to fit the budget of the most price-conscientious consumer. For a little over $100 and some shopping, you can pick up an 8+ mega pixel camera that will take great pictures in the woods.
Once you have purchased your new camera, closely read the directions in the manual and pay close attention to the size of photo files you are creating. You want to set up for the largest files to achieve the best photo resolution. Unfortunately, you will not be able to take as many photos, but the resolution will be the best possible with your camera. To increase the number of photos that you can take, you will want to get a high capacity memory card for extended hunts. With digital technology you can instantly view the picture you have just taken and immediately know if it is satisfactory, or perhaps needs to be deleted and additional shots taken.
Next, to become familiar with your camera, take it and the manual on several outings before elk season and learn how to take advantage of the camera’s features. When needed, refer to the manual for additional ideas for creative use of your camera’s settings. Always be sure to learn how to use the “self timer” option for when you are solo and want to take some great pics. Many cameras today have an optional remote control that can be purchased for easy self portraits that may not be possible with the self timer.
WHEN TO SHOOT
The best time of day to take pictures is usually in the rich morning or evening light, rather than when the sun is directly overhead. But I like to take pictures throughout the day so I have my camera easily accessible in my front pocket, rather than buried in my pack. As I hike through the day, I may see something that makes me think, “Wow, that’s cool”, so I snap a shot or two. Taking pictures in this manor allows you get multiple shots through out the hunt, and many may turn out spectacular. By sticking with it, you can build quite an impressive story of your hunt in pictures. Be creative and look at less than obvious opportunities. Take pictures of rocks, trees, or hunting equipment up close with a “macro“ setting, your buddies from different angles or when they don’t know they are being photographed.
Once you’re finally fortunate enough to get that big bull elk on the ground, as hard as it is, take time to switch gears a bit. Eat a snack and calm down. You want these photos to turn out the best they can. It is SO hard to take excellent pictures of your trophy when you’re all jacked up on adrenaline. Once you have reflected a bit on your kill, think about the angles of your photographs. There may be some site prep required to get an unobstructed shot of you and your trophy. ALWAYS take your pictures before gutting and skinning the animal! Try to conceal any large amounts of blood and the animal’s tongue as it will detract from the overall quality of your picture. Be sure to remove all the brush, grass, and tree limbs from in front of the animal’s face and body. Take a look around at the back ground. It may take some work sometimes to reposition the animal’s body, but try to capture the beautiful scenery with your trophy. Try to avoid taking the photo from an elevated position, as it will make the animal look smaller. The person in the photo should sit or kneel at an arms length from the antlers, behind the animal’s body. Don’t sit on or stand above the animal, it may make the beast look smaller than it really is. Shoot a few with, and without, the flash on, filling in the shadows of your face. Try to keep the sun to the photographer’s back. Take at least 3-4 pictures from each of the different angles. Make sure to take many portrait style pictures too, with your camera turned sideways just in case your story may have the opportunity to grace the cover of a magazine someday.
If indeed you are submitting photos for publication, always send the full size, un-cropped images. This will allow for the most versatility when laying the photos out in the magazine, complementing your story.
Carrying a camera with you on the hunt will pay big dividends later when sharing memories with family and friends who weren’t there to experience it first hand. Collecting pictures in the backcountry of your favorite haunts is a very rewarding hobby, and will take you back to the hunt during the off season, and for years to come.